TBI And The NFL; The Wives Battling On Behalf Of Their Brain-Injured Husbands

Current logo of the National Football League
Image via Wikipedia

I blogged a while back when Gay Culverhouse, president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, decided to make an issue out of brain injury amongst former professional football players.

Now a group of these players’ wives has joined the fight, and one has decided to duke it out in court, as this great New York Times piece explains:

Eleanor Perfetto’s worker’s compensation claim on behalf of her husband, Ralph Wenzel, asserted that his early-onset dementia was an occupational hazard of his seven seasons as a lineman in the N.F.L. Having heard league officials say for years that high rates of dementia in former players either did not exist or could not be ascribed to football, Perfetto, who has a Ph.D. in public health, said she wanted to end all doubt in the courts.

Perfetto, who declared herself “one very pushy broad” while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee last October, is one of six women from diverse backgrounds who have redirected the discussion of brain trauma. They range from players’ family members to a former team president, from a congresswoman to a leading neuropathologist.

“There is a sense of: ‘What is she doing here? She doesn’t belong,’ ” said Representative Linda T. Sanchez, Democrat of California, whose blunt criticism of the N.F.L.’s concussion policies during last fall’s Congressional hearing led to changes in league protocol. “People underestimate you, and it makes you very powerful.

“That’s something that’s afoot here with these women. The N.F.L. is so male and macho and testosterone-dominated, I don’t think they figured that women were going to be a force to be reckoned with in this thing, and they’re finding out the hard way.”

If it takes a “pushy broad” to fight for her husband’s health — and it does even far beyond the N.F.L. — these men are damn lucky to have one on their team.

Here’s an amazing, lengthy feature on this issue, from GQ, by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

For those unfamiliar with traumatic brain injury, or TBI, it’s the signature war wound — invisible yet life-altering — of the Iraq war, as soldiers encounter IEDs and their vehicles, bodies and brains — like nuts inside a shell — are shaken extremely hard.

400,000 High School Football Players Got Concussions This Year: What Exactly Is The Point?

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25:  NFL Commissione...
NFL Commissiomer Roger Goodell;Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There is a photo in today’s New York Times sports section that breaks my heart — former player Brent Boyd, who suffers headaches, squeezing his face between his huge palms. (The photo on the Times’ website is so tightly cropped it only shows an impassive Goodell. Boyd’s huge shoulders don’t make it into the frame.)

The story details why it matters so much that the N.F.L. reconsider how badly it’s willing to injure its players – because a whole new generation of younger athletes, and their coaches, are modeling their behavior accordingly. Coaches routinely tell an injured athlete to “walk it off” and most teams have no ready access to a physician to know when a player needs to get off the field now.

“More than 1.2 million teenagers play high school football every fall, and hundreds are seriously injured by concussions and other brain trauma…About 400,000 concussions occurred in high school athletics during the 2008-9 school year — more in football than in any other sport” says the Times.

Have you or someone you know or love ever suffered a concussion? It’s scary shit. Two summers ago, my sweetie took a fall while riding his bike, falling hard — even wearing a bike helmet and not going that fast — onto the sidewalk. He was able to ride up to meet me, his shorts torn and a weird look on his face. “What day is it?” I asked him.  Right answer, immediately. “What’s your name?” Ditto. Count my fingers. Right.

“What did you make for breakfast an hour ago?” He shook his head. Off we raced to the local hospital. I sat up with him most of that night, as doctors told us to make sure there were no side effects or changes in his behavior or physical condition. It was terrifying and he has not ridden a bike since. I know he will, at some point. But he’s an adult, under no social or financial pressure to throw his body into situations that can, and likely will, hurt him physically, both now and decades from now.

Surely no sport — no ghetto-fleeing, life-changing college scholarship — is worth this cost. Is it?